Contest #158 shortlist ⭐️

Unplanned Obsolescence

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Write a story that includes someone saying, “It’s not fair.”... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction Funny

Screw-ups, breakthroughs, heavy downs, inspirational highs; the turmoil followed by the sweetest relief. That’s the process. Thereafter the wait, the crackling in the air, a callous foretaste; this time as with earlier times, another slow trundle back to the old drafting table; through pages of shame. Of waste. Sorry but not sorry. Sorry but it’s not right for us. 

It’s why I don’t bother anymore. 

Writing I mean. It’s why I don’t bother. I write instead for myself, for I am easily pleased. Or at least more easily pleased than everyone else appears to be. When you pass gas, you sniff perfunctorily for dear life. As if your entire olfactory system depends upon your creation’s copious inhalation. It engulfs you; it means, in its own sweet ephemeral stench, almost the world. The universe. Nothing else matters. I liken farting in the chair to writing for myself.

But it gets you nowhere. 

Failure should lead to determination should lead to success. Instead: repeated failure leads to rejection sensitivity leads to pathological doubt leads to stunted creativity leads to more rejection leads to… well, selling televisions.

My first customer of the day is an old lady. I think she might be a widow. She’s cheerfully putting in her card details for a new 32” she’s going to plonk in the sitting room. To replace her old Bakelite I tease. And I can tell as she smiles back - not merely platitudinously - that she herself must have had her fair share of hard knocks too. Though scarcely it seems to bother her. Not even, as with ageing celebs, a noticeable and frustrated craving to stay young. The heavy, almost intolerable expectation to beat both time and gravity. She isn’t interested in upgrading to a 40” and we both know she’ll not use the vast majority of Smart features. 

No one around to help her. To connect up her satellite box. I don’t know why she insists on ploughing on. Stiff upper lip even when it becomes detestably overgrown and requires semi-regular electrolysis. 

“It’s not fair” says my next customer. By contrast a brash young man who is demanding a refund for his ‘faulty’ unit. Though it is only after a few minutes of mild resistance that I know his persistence and expensive suit will make things fair for him in the end. And so proves to be the case when my manager - Caroline - must step in. A full credit is issued and we duly log it as the right outcome on the system. 

System will sometimes say yes but, of course, it depends on who’s asking.

The shop is never very busy. People get so much of their stuff online these days. They benefit from distance selling terms as well as prices factoring in no overheads. Reward for doing no more than sitting on their backside while the High Street crashes and burns. 

My final patron for the day is a chap in a navy gillet and glasses asking me about 21:9 monitors. I sort of like him. I admire his interest in the minutiae. Of an emotionless world. Although I find it hard to get enthused about debating aspect ratios. And I’m not sure he has any interest in buying anything. Not that commission much interests me either. 

No, I am interested in clouds. In trees. At times I have been interested in other people. But the wonder in all of these things - at least from a literary perspective - fades exponentially. Your descriptions and enthusiasm never genuinely novel to the world but novel to you and so novel to the world if only via youthful chicanery. The three card trick expires. Fail to win the hearts of others while your own heart is still full and the game is up.

The gatekeepers have so much to answer for. Faceless and powerful. They can make you or deflate you like a sponge weighed down by too much of the good stuff: butter, milk… sour cream. They are not malign, no. But not kind either. They scratch their heads, dunk a biscuit and give up reading after only two or maybe three sentences. Not so interested in sniffing your bouquet or rooting around for all the various aromas in your failed literary experiment.

And so, you get yourself a day job. Or a Brotberuf—bread job - as Kafka would describe it. In today’s world you don’t bum around in Paris because otherwise you’ll never save up for that deposit. In today’s world, risk is a dirty word.

And yet the world is perishable. Warranties end, sets are replaced within months, not years. Planned obsolescence met with the unplanned trashing of the planet. Against this context it is no wonder we crave meaning. 

After an eight hour shift, I walk home through the market town centre. I look at all the things I once found exciting but since failed to write about successfully: the colourful gabled roofs of market stalls, the soggy leaves, the interference patterns in the puddles of petroleum. They are never bromidic. For I am never truly at my end. 

It starts to lightly rain and my branded shirt begins to run slightly translucent. It stops before I am soaked through.  I am not planning my obsolescence even though common sense and dejection should have seen my insides replaced for OLED organs long ago. 

When we are young and impressionable we are told we can succeed. We are told to follow our dreams. Without language the first archaic humans might not ever have reached Flores, right?

Instead I get home, put on the kettle and think about my crappy day. I dry off and put on my comfy jeans. And feeling this strange sense of reckless abandon, I sit up at my desk and suddenly experience a light-switch moment, a frisson, a swing. An idea for a story comes into my head unbidden. And I start to type like a paddle steamer through water, despite swearing I never would again. A masterpiece is forming before my very eyes. 

And I think to myself once again: Ah well, you never know… 

August 10, 2022 19:22

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Tricia Shulist
14:41 Aug 14, 2022

Great story. Sort of sums up the disappointment of trying to find success — in anything you love. I was touched by the optimism at the end. The change of heart really made the story. Thanks for this.


Show 0 replies
Amanda Lieser
17:42 Sep 04, 2022

Hi Aaron! I deeply enjoyed how you contrasted this MC’s struggle with creativity to the outside world. I was also impressed with the way you wove some very deep thoughts into an otherwise mundane activity. I hope for success for your MC, but a part of me wonders if any amount of success would placate them? Then again, does it ever placate us? CONGRATULATIONS ON GETTING SHORTLISTED!


Show 0 replies
T.S.A. Maiven
08:52 Aug 26, 2022

I enjoyed this story! Keep up the great work.


Show 0 replies
Cam Gray
19:42 Aug 18, 2022

Hey Aron! I was assigned your story during Critique Circle, and I am so glad that I was. Your voice meanders between cerebral and conversational in a way that enticed me. And I was pleasantly surprised by the speaker's eventual acceptance of their fate (how does the saying go...madness is doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different outcome?). All in all, I was touched by the ending, and I found the speaker's impressions of each shopper very insightful. I know these contests limit word count, but I think it could be interesti...


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.